It’s the most wonderful time of the year: that’s right, December, the month of being assaulted by Spotify Wrapped Instagram stories from every single person you follow. Since I have Apple Music, I thought I’d toss my own music taste in the ring, relating each song to the impact it's had on my life this past year. Feel free to judge my taste, ignore it, or take it as a recommendation. 

Music is capable of both fostering and reinforcing memories. It’s there when I want to avoid conversation walking down Locust and when I want to get hyped up during a workout. When I want to celebrate, be sad, or anything in between. And the year 2021 contained a lot of celebration, a lot of sadness, and so much more. Here are some of the tunes that helped me get through it all.  

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House 

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” is officially the song of transitions. I have a history of playing it religiously while looking out of airplane windows during takeoff. Perhaps the most dramatic takeoff of all occurred at the start of this year when I left home for college. The song’s message forces contemplation, with simultaneously melancholic and optimistic electric guitar instrumentals that made me feel like I was in a coming–of–age film as I watched my home shrink in the distance. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a rock song that rose to the top of charts in the late '80s because of its poetic lyrics and surreal vibe, and decades later it still resonates—especially as I transitioned between coasts and chapters of my life earlier this year. 

“Cruel Summer” by Bananarama 

Windows down, sunglasses on, pedal to the metal. I smell sunscreen and feel the warmth of the familiar Los Angeles sun through the dashboard of my beloved Ford Escape, cranking up the radio in main character fashion as I merge onto the 101. The traffic doesn’t faze me—more time to jam out! I smile and shout the lyrics to this summer anthem in all of its totally tubular, absolutely bitchin’ '80s glory. The irresistibly danceable synth–pop beat and electronic drums are the soundtrack of that season, playing on repeat as I make up for lost time with high school friends. We live out the senior summer fantasy we never got by swimming at the beach, gorging ourselves on KBBQ, and hanging out on overlooks. “Cruel Summer” plays behind it all. 

“One” by Metallica 

This song may be about a WWI soldier getting his limbs blown off in battle, but to me it means family. Metallica blares through our outdoor speakers as my dad smokes a tri–tip for dinner or on the radio on the way to Dodger stadium as we get hyped for the game. I grew up with Metallica’s intense instrumentals blasting all too frequently to my headache–prone mom’s dismay. The chances my family has to rock out together have grown far less frequent since I’m in college across the country, but I still listen to the band every day, as evidenced by this song being my number one most–listened of the year. With each play, I am reminded of home, looking forward to the next time we get to fist–bump and headbang to the thrashing tunes.   

“Need to Know” by Doja Cat 

I brave the sweaty mosh pits of Made in America with my best friends, bouncing up and down to Doja Cat’s mesmerizing voice and screaming along to her poetically racy lyrics. We ring in a new semester, arms wrapped around one another. There is a mutual understanding that this one will be different–hopefully far more normal and full of adventure, exploration, and memories made in–person. To me, Doja’s “Need to Know” is a benchmark for a time once full of promise and excitement for the future. Hearing the song now makes me realize how far I’ve progressed since I came to Penn halfway through my freshman year with no new friends to show for it. While Doja Cat undoubtedly intended for “Need to Know” to have a seductive rather than sappy takeaway, no matter where or when I hear the song I am reminded to be grateful for my rockstar friends who would always push a stranger if they got too close to me in the crowd.

While I intended for this roundup to help prove my music taste is acceptable, at the very minimum, my hope now is that it prompted you to consider the role music played in your year. As 2021 draws to a close, blast some tunes to celebrate, vibe, and reflect.  

Some Bonus Songs:

“Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus 

This song has helped me shamelessly embrace my final year of being a teenager, convincing myself with its angsty guitar and early 2000s melodrama that I am misunderstood and a loser. Ironically and unironically. 

“Out of Touch” by Hall & Oates 

Yes, you are sensing an '80s theme here, and I do have a Hall & Oates poster hanging proudly in my dorm room. This song has a lofty 50+ plays this year, so it had to be included.

“The Spins” by Mac Miller

This sounds 100 times better when you’re belting it surrounded by people you love. An out–of–body experience.